A former British colony and Australian protectorate, Papua New Guinea gained its independence in 1975. The media sector is relatively underdeveloped and struggles to inform the country’s 8.3 million inhabitants, who speak at least 80 different languages.
The country’s two daily newspapers are foreign-owned: The National is owned by the Malaysian logging multinational Rimbuan Hijau, and the Post-Courier is owned by News Corp, the sprawling media group led by Australian-American billionaire Rupert Murdoch. The privately owned EMTV News channel is one of the few media outlets to promote investigative journalism. The Australian Broadcasting Cooperation (ABC) is the only foreign news organisation to have a permanent base in the capital, Port Moresby.
Peter O’Neill’s replacement as prime minister by James Marape in May 2019 was seen as an encouraging development for greater media independence. But journalists quickly became disillusioned in April 2020 when the police minister launched a violent verbal attack on two reporters for their “misleading” coverage of the Covid-19 crisis and called for them to be fired. Reappointed in July 2022 following elections marred by irregularities, James Marape’s administration has repeatedly attacked journalists who are too critical.
Papua New Guinea offers a relatively protective legislative environment for press freedom, but questions are often raised about the independence of its media. The absence of a Right to Information Act deprives journalists of access to official documents, which puts them at odds with the authorities. It continues to be difficult for journalists to freely cover the pro-independence movement in the eastern autonomous region of Bougainville.
Reporters are constrained by the interests of the corporations that own their media outlets, who are mainly concerned with commercial and financial considerations. As such, it is complicated for The National’s reporters to probe too deeply into certain environmental issues knowing that their newspaper is owned by a logging giant. The proximity between media owners and politicians also makes it difficult to cover certain cases. In general, the lack of resources allocated by Papua New Guinea’s media editors to investigative journalism has tended to encourage “copy-and-paste” journalism.
The influence of Christianity, professed by 96% of the population, prevents certain subjects from entering the public debate, such as the right to abortion or the question of paedophilia within the clergy. Social media are developing rapidly in reaction to these obstacles but poor regulation of platforms such as the hugely popular Facebook has led to the creation of many heavily politicised accounts whose activity mostly consists of spreading false information and attacking the work of independent reporters.
Journalists are faced with intimidation, direct threats, censorship, lawsuits and bribery attempts, making it a dangerous profession. And direct interference often threatens the editorial freedom at leading media outlets. This was seen yet again at EMTV in February 2022, when the entire newsroom was fired after walking out in response to a decision to suspend Sincha Dimara, the head of news and current affairs, for “insubordination” (running stories that annoyed a government minister). Her predecessor, Neville Choi, was also suspended for “insubordination” in 2019 and a senior EMTV journalist, Scott Waide, was suspended in November 2018 for reporting on alleged misuse of government funds.